Report: Family died quickly from CO in Aspen-area home
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” A family of four that succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning in an Aspen-area home on the Thanksgiving holiday likely died within minutes of being exposed to the gas, based on preliminary findings released Wednesday.
The level of carbon monoxide in the Popcorn Lane residence was estimated at about 5,000 parts per million (ppm) at the time of the incident. The estimation was based on a test completed at the home within the last two days, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said.
At that level the family probably died in about 10 to 20 minutes.
The test involved starting up the Munchkin boiler that powered the home’s snowmelt system and letting it run throughout the night. The air in the home was then tested for carbon monoxide levels, Braudis said.
“They were trying to replicate the night at the house,” he said.
The measurement was 20,000 ppm in the crawl space where the mechanical equipment for the home is housed. The level was 5,000 ppm in the bedroom where the family was found, Braudis said.
The bedroom sits two floors above the crawl space.
Aspen Volunteer Fire Department deputy chief Rick Balentine said it would take about 15 to 30 minutes for an individual in good health to die of carbon monoxide poisoning at an exposure of 3,000 ppm.
He said at 6,000 ppm, it would take about 10 to 15 minutes. While Balentine said those were just guidelines, a number of other sources were in line with those figures, including state and federal agencies.
He said fire department personnel won’t enter a space without a breathing apparatus if a reading is above 200 ppm.
“Because anything over 200 ppm will cause headaches, fatigue and nausea,” Balentine said.
A disconnected exhaust pipe that stretched from the boiler to a chimney flute appears to be how the gas infiltrated the home.
Braudis said an investigation determined a polyvinyl chloride pipe, more commonly known as PVC, was not hooked up at the “elbow” point where it was to allow the gas from the boiler to flow to the flute and out of the home.
He also said investigators did not locate a carbon monoxide detector in the home where the bodies of Parker Lofgren, 39; his wife, Caroline, 42; and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, were discovered.
“We don’t believe there was one,” Braudis said. “We have not found one.”
The four victims were found Nov. 28 in a bedroom of the residence by family friends, who drove up from Denver to share the house with them for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the sheriff’s office. The home is located about 4 miles east of Aspen in unincorporated Pitkin County.
A Pitkin County building code required homes to have one carbon monoxide detector, although it was not specific as to the location.
Pitkin County has since strengthened its law regarding carbon monoxide detectors. The regulation requires all residential property owners to install and maintain CO2 detectors in their buildings ” one near each bedroom and one located generally one each level of the structure.
Once the investigation is completed, which Braudis said was nearly done, the sheriff’s office will give its findings to the district attorney’s office in Aspen. Braudis said he was curious to see if the office determines “whether there are elements leading to negligent homicide or not.”
Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin said the office is concerned about the situation.
“When we read the full report we will confer and decide how and if to proceed,” he said.
That would seemingly leave the district attorney’s office three options ” drop the case, file criminal charges or bring the matter before a grand jury. Should a grand jury convene, it would be up to that group to decide if someone should be charged with a crime.